Space Station Sunday: 3 New Crew, 3D Printing, And Thanksgiving

Good evening, space fans!  This week brought a flurry of activity to the ISS.  Most importantly, the launch, voyage, and subsequent docking of the Expedition 42/43's Soyuz TMA-15M transport vehicle went perfectly, delivering the three new crew to the space station just a few hours after liftoff last Sunday.  The new crew - cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, Italian ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and NASA astronaut Terry Virts - will remain in orbit until May 2015.

Six humans and a space station...what will we learn this time around?
(Image courtesy

Video of the launch and docking was, as usual, breathtaking.   Fortunately the snow at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazahkstan did not impede the launch.

The mission is a somewhat unique one, marking only the second time in ISS history that two women have been aboard the ISS at the same time.  The Expedition 42/43 crew will witness numerous transport vehicle arrivals, conduct up to three spacewalks, and continue the biological and technological science projects already underway aboard the station.

The Soyuz transport craft, rocking the dock at the ISS.
(Image courtesy

Regarding those experiments, the new crew got involved right away, with Flight Engineer Terry Virts assisting commander Butch Wilmore on the Cyclops experiment, which will deploy nanosatellites for scrutiny of small things in space.  Virts also worked on a botany experiment and measured air velocity in the Japanese Kibo module.

Astronaut Cristoforetti jumped right in as well, setting up equipment for the Blind And Imagined experiment, which measures sensory and visual changes in astronauts who undergo long-duration spaceflight.  Other experiments currently underway include tests on plasma and the cardiovascular system in regard to microgravity, as well as tests of radiation exposure in the ISS. 

A major development in onboard adaptability became apparent this week, as commander Butch Wilmore printed out the first-ever 3D-printed part in space.  The "Made In Space" 3D printer successfully created a new part for itself, which bodes well for sustainability not just of the device but for quick and effective replacements for parts of the rest of the ISS.  While the plate was slightly stickier than anticipated, this may just be due to its first attempt.  Further comparisons will lend more insight.

When every pound of cargo and each second of delay counts, it's nice to know that some problems can be solved even without help from Earth.
(Image courtesy

Niki Werkheiser, the 3D-printer's project manager on the ground at the Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said, “This is the first time we’ve ever used a 3-D printer in space, and we are learning, even from these initial operations...As we print more parts we’ll be able to learn whether some of the effects we are seeing are caused by microgravity or just part of the normal fine-tuning process for printing. When we get the parts back on Earth, we’ll be able to do a more detailed analysis to find out how they compare to parts printed on Earth.”

Wilmore also tested out some football flight know, for science.
(Image courtesy

And finally, the crew (despite nationality) all enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal together on Thursday. According to Fox News, the dinner included smoked turkey, candied yams, mushrooms, greenbeans, cornbread stuffing, and cherry-blueberry cobbler. The food, which is all freeze dried or thermostabilized (preserved in a manner similar to canning, but in pouches) is reheated via hot water jets due to the absence of other cooking opportunities.
While this makes for some interesting efforts at recreating dishes, NASA scientists would like to have space-grown sweet potatoes feature in future Thanksgiving celebrations (and space meals in general.)  The nutrient-rich tuber contains good supplies of beta carotene and carbohydrates for maximum energy, and can be grown under artificial light (making them ideal for deep-space mission crops.)  In the meantime, the fare was factory-fresh.

None of mom's apple pie, but hey, M&Ms!
(Image courtesy Colonel Chris Hadfield.)

That's all the orbital awesomeness for this week.  See you next Sunday, where we'll learn how the new crew are adapting to their digs, see what pops up on the social media feeds of these adventurers, and wonder who's going to win all the photography admiration for this expedition.  Watch this space!

Commander Wilmore has the artistic award, so far.  He captured this image of Saudi Arabia, among others.
(Image courtesy Butch Wilmore.)

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